Sheila Matthew’s Able Child

Twelve years ago, Sheila Matthews says, the New Canaan school district said her 7-year-old son had ADHD. He’d been diagnosed “by a checklist,” she says, with questions like “Does he look out the window?” and “Does he interrupt the teacher?” Because of his condition, she was told he needed to be medicated with what she calls “psychiatric drugs.”

Sheila was unsure. “He was so small and thin,” Sheila says. “His pediatrician never saw a problem. I didn’t have the same behavioral experience as the school did. And I didn’t like the ‘mental illness’ label.”

Shortly thereafter, C-SPAN aired a congressional hearing covering what Sheila calls “drugging kids in school.”

“That was my experience!” she thought. She contacted a woman who spoke at the hearing — Patricia Weathers — and soon the two women formed an alliance.

AbleChild is a national parent’s rights organization dedicated to “protecting full informed consent and the right to refuse psychiatric services. Ablechild educates parents on the risks associated with drugging children and promotes a label and drug free education in our schools.” It has no religious or political affiliation.

Though Sheila — who recently moved to Westport — had no non-profit experience, she learned quickly. AbleChild now fields inquiries from around the world. Sheila has appeared on CNN and Fox News, and been quoted in Time magazine.

Able Child worked with Diane Sawyer’s team on a story about the financial aspect of psychiatric drugs. The piece highlighted the impact in foster care, where, Sheila says, “lots of indigent moms with nowhere to turn have their kids taken by the state, and drugged.”

Sheila Matthews with her sons, Joseph and Nicholas. (Photo/Venture Photography)

Able Child backed legislation in Connecticut that says a child diagnosed with ADHD or other psychiatric labels need not be medicated to attend school. Federal law now prohibits schools from recommending or requiring that children take controlled substances.

I asked Sheila if she sees any role for what she calls “psychiatric drugs.”

“That’s not my business,” she says. “My mission statement is ‘informed consent.’

“Some moms in my organization do choose psychiatric drugs, while supporting Able Child. We’re just looking for objectivity. There are no blood tests or scans in the mental health field. All we want for parents is knowledge, so they can give consent — or not.”

Moving to Westport has been wonderful, Sheila says. She loves the water, the diversity of people, the creativity in town — and its beauty.

For the first time, interns are working with Able Child. The library is a great place for her to meet them.

As for the 7-year-old son with the ADHD diagnosis?

He’s now 19, a rising junior at Bowling Green State University. (A younger boy is still in high school.)

“He’s so wonderful,” she says of her college son. “He’s very outgoing. He’s never been on psychiatric drugs.”

Twelve years ago, Sheila says, “I made the right choice.”

A dozen years later, she works so that other parents can make informed choices too.

11 responses to “Sheila Matthew’s Able Child

  1. Prozac Nation

    Now if we could get all these adults off their anti-depressants that’s making them droned out zombies!

  2. I’m a divorved dad and the ex is insiting on placing our son on stimulate meds. So much so she is tryingto ontain a court order on the matter. Any advice on the matter,because I have not been privy to a brainscan or blood test.

    • get a good lawyer… and stay involved.

      • Hi, I am an intern for AbleChild and a graduate student at Sacred Heart University. I am interested to know more about the situation. Was your son diagnosed by a psychiatrist with ADHD or ADD? Getting medical tests and scans done cannot diagnose psychiatric illnesses at this point, which is why I recommend getting a psychiatrist’s opinion at this point. I would love more information on this so that you can make the best decision for your son’s well being!

  3. She’s making Adderal sound like it’s the devil’s dangerous candy, or something. Why all the dramatics?

    These days the new medicines for ADD and ADHD are incredibly effective with practically no side effects. I’m all for educating the parent, but this feels like a crusade against helpful medication masked as a not-for-profit cause. I don’t buy it.

  4. VetDoc @Compo

    Sheila,

    Good for you and the many others that have taken the alternative route. I have been in the healthcare field for nearly 50 years and the momentum within Psychiatry towards simply writing a script for “symptoms” is outrageous. What ever happened to proper diagnosis and working through the issues at hand? We are turning into the “Zombie Nation”.

    Big Pharma has done an incredible job brainwashing millions of patients and doctors alike; everyone should view this brief video:

    http://www.mediaed.org/cgi-bin/commerce.cgi?preadd=action&key=224

    “Big Bucks, Big Pharma” pulls back the curtain on the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry to expose the insidious ways that illness is used, manipulated, and in some instances created, for capital gain. Focusing on the industry’s marketing practices, media scholars and health professionals help viewers understand the ways in which direct-to-consumer (DTC) pharmaceutical advertising glamorizes and normalizes the use of prescription medication, and works in tandem with promotion to doctors. Combined, these industry practices shape how both patients and doctors understand and relate to disease and treatment. Ultimately, Big Bucks, Big Pharma challenges us to ask important questions about the consequences of relying on a for-profit industry for our health and well-being.

    An educated healthcare consumer is the ONLY way to go.

  5. Eric Buchroeder

    John, advice isn’t going to help you until you know as much about your kid’s situation as your ex-wife does. Until you do, I’d suggest you let her handle it. Sounds like you’re being kept out of the process of your child’s healthcare. Be careful of this situation just turning into another front on the divorce war.

  6. Great Job AbleChild!

    AbleChild is a great organization giving light to a very important situation within our healthcare system. We have a problem of over-diagnosing in this country as a result of the biomedical model we follow — that is, our medical system is based on a disease-cure format rather than prevention. Not only this, within this biomedical model, there is a huge profit-motive in diagnosing. Children are being push by doctors to take medicines not because there is something wrong with them but because there is a constant desire and need to “cure” (through unnecessary, potentially dangerous and stigmatizing drugs) and make money at the same time.

    So, I believe Sheila is doing an awesome job of trying to teach parents to be informed about their decision concerning the medicalization of their child. Whether one chooses medicine or not, it is important for one to educate themselves in totality — one of the main goals of AbleChild.

  7. As the cofounder of Ablechild and a mother that has dealt with this issue firsthand, I would never endorse psychiatric treatment in any form. Our mission is informed consent and we only like to encourage parents and caregivers to know their rights. There are many underlying causes of behavior and attention issues that are never addressed by psychiatrists. In addition, there are many overlooked educational issues that can contribute to behavior and attention issues. We in no way endorse or recommend any type of medical treatment but encourage parents to look at the whole child, research their options, and report any adverse side effects through the Medwatch program.

  8. Young adults who grew up taking medication are sharing their stories, including:

    –Kaitlyn Bell, author of Dosed: The Medication Generation Grows Up:
    http://www.salon.com/2012/04/07/growing_up_drugged/

    –Katherine Sharp, author of Growing Up on Zoloft:
    http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/06/growing-up-on-zoloft-talking-drugs-depression-and-identity-with-katherine-sharpe/

    Their perspectives are neither uniform nor conclusive, but they add weight to AbleChild’s mission to inform and empower parents trying to decide what’s best for their child.

  9. Someone Else

    The first thing I got, after my eighth grade son got 100% on his state standardized tests in 2009, was a call from the school social worker claiming I kept my child up nights studying and pushed him too hard. I responded to the social worker that I was a “mean mom” who had my children in bed by 9pm and that my son was constantly playing World of Warcraft because he never had any homework. I asked if there was some problem with my child’s behavior at school, she conceded there was none and quickly ended the conversation, but that didn’t stop her. Shortly after this I had a parent teacher conference where five teachers again claimed I was pushing my child too hard. I asked them if any of them had ever heard of genetics and went on the explain the educational background of my family. Thank God for a science teacher who’d heard that high intelligence is a genetically passed down trait.

    The “symptoms” of ADHD and other disorders and the traits of gifted children are very similar, and medical training does not include an education into the traits of gifted people. This problem is explored in detail in a book called, “Misdiagnosis and Duel Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults.”

    But there is absolutely a problem within the schools of social workers trying to stigmatize any child who is not within the bell curve. Yet I’m quite certain it’s unwise to try and stigmatize and drug up the best and brightest children in this country.

    The school ended up confessing it wasn’t equipped to teach gifted children so I found a boarding school that was. My son was not drugged up, and will be the valadictian of his graduating class this spring. But I’m quite certain psycho/pharmaceutical greed, and the drugging up of children for profit, has run amok in this country.